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Accused lawyer disbarred

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

A Clearwater lawyer who narrowly lost an election to the circuit bench a decade ago has been disbarred, accused of stealing about $86,000 from two clients, the Florida Bar announced Wednesday.

Wayne T. Phillips, 55, who lost to current Judge Phil Federico in 1994 by just 10,000 votes, is charged with stealing $70,000 from the estate of a 96-year-old woman after her death and another $16,000 from an 84-year-old former teacher.

Phillips, who could not be reached for comment, awaits trial on two counts of grand theft against someone over age 65.

"Mr. Phillips is saddened and remorseful about the results of his conduct," said Phillips' attorney, Ronnie Crider.

"He practiced law honorably and professionally his entire adult life. And it's a tragedy for the victims as well as for Mr. Phillips."

Crider said Phillips, who had practiced law for nearly three decades, did not contest his disbarment, which was ordered by the Florida Supreme Court on Aug. 19.

Investigators said Phillips, a Clearwater native, stole $70,000 from the estate of Zolia Byrd, a Clearwater woman who had been represented by Phillips for decades. The theft occurred after Byrd died in 2002, investigators said.

Prosecutors say Phillips also stole more than $16,000 from Harry N. Ingraham, a retired Dunedin High School teacher who had taught Phillips in class.

Ingraham had hired Phillips to help him obtain part of his late wife's estate.

Prosecutors say Phillips collected some money for Ingraham but kept most for himself.

The Florida Bar suspended Phillips in May 2003 after Ingraham filed a complaint.

A referee who heard the evidence surrounding the Ingraham case had recommended that the Florida Supreme Court disbar Phillips.

In 1995, the Florida Bar reprimanded Phillips for overcharging the estate of an elderly client by nearly $10,000.

Phillips, who formerly lived in Safety Harbor but has since moved to Tampa, also made an unsuccessful bid in 1989 for a seat on the Safety Harbor commission.